Clark at MBS

Gregory Clarke, whose book A Farewell to Alms, sparked much blogosphere discussion last year gave a talk at Melbourne Business School yesterday. I haven’t read the book myself (I guess history can wait in these busy times) but Clark’s thesis is that it is hard to point to big changes that led to the Industrial Revolution in England in the late 18th century. For instance, institutions seem to have been pretty stable and even movements like the enclosure of common lands occurred slowly and with an economic return not much greater than the cost of enclosing. For him, the big fact seems to be that for several hundred years prior to this time, the rich in England tended to have children who survived much more than the poor (at twice the rate). He argues that this altered the composition of the English population and was the big change that caused the Industrial Revolution. Clark talked less about the mechanism of this change — it could be genetic or cultural (although he appears to lean towards the genetic) — but even so, how this caused an economic and technological revolution is another matter. Nonetheless, the point that fertility rates were so much high amongst the rich relative to others and that this was a sustained and fairly unique event in global terms (e.g., it wasn’t going on elsewhere then or now), is provocative.

For more, you can view interview with Gregory Clark conducted by Chris Gondek discussing his book (click to view podcast) or visit Greg Clark’s website